Thursday, 9 July, 2020

VIRTUAL HEARING SUITS: FEDERAL JUDGE, SANs PREDICT OUTCOME AT SUPREME COURT

SUPREME COURT’LL DECLARE SUITS AS ACADEMIC, HYPOTHETICAL – OSIPITAN

By Emeka Nwadioke

A federal judge and some leading jurists today disagreed on the merit of the lawsuits filed at the Supreme Court by Lagos and Ekiti States challenging the constitutionality of virtual hearing by Nigerian courts.

CITY LAWYER had in an exclusive report revealed plans by South West Attorneys-General (SWAG) to seek a constitutional interpretation of virtual court hearings as set out in the National Judicial Council (NJC) Guidelines and sundry Practice Directions issued by heads of courts.

Speaking at an Attorneys-General Colloquium on “Remote hearing and e-filing in Nigeria: A broader perspective and practical, foolproof implementation,” Ekiti State Attorney-General & Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Olawale Fapohunda had said that the Attorneys-General of Lagos, Ondo and Oyo States would head to the Supreme Court to test the constitutionality of remote hearings. Both Lagos and Ekiti States have now filed matters at the Supreme Court asking the apex court to determine the constitutionality of virtual hearings among other reliefs.

No sooner had the CITY LAWYER report hit the newsstands than some senior lawyers lampoon the move by the attorneys-general.

Also speaking today at the Nigerian Bar Association, Lagos Branch webinar on “An engagement with the National Industrial Court of Nigeria on the Practice Directions and Guidelines for Court Sitting 2020,” Justice Benedict Bakwaph Kanyip, President of the court, expressed serious doubts over the merit of the SWAG cases. However, the two panelists that featured on the webinar had differing views on the matter.

While foremost law teacher and expert in evidence law, Prof. Taiwo Osipitan SAN aligned with Justice Kanyip, arguing that no dispute has arisen between the States and the Federation as to justify the attention of the Supreme Court, leading commercial lawyer, Prof. Konyin Ajayi SAN disagreed, arguing that the SWAG suits have merit.

Said Justice Kanyip: “I have not seen the (court) papers. But what was reported in the press was that they had gone to the Supreme Court to ask the Supreme Court to state whether what they are doing is not legal. It is one thing to say, ‘This thing that is being done has injured me.’ It is another thing to say, ‘I have acted; confirm to me that what I did is legal.’ This second example, from what I have gathered, is what has been sent upstairs. I don’t know how – even if it is Federal High Court, as Prof. (Osipitan) said that interpretation of the Constitution is that of the Federal High Court – even if it is Federal High Court, can you go to Federal High Court and say, ‘This thing I have done, validate it for me, tell me its valid.’ I really don’t know. It is something I have been thinking and thinking.”

He added: “I think Section 36 deals with fair hearing, fair trial. We have to also look at whether the virtual sitting, virtual hearing, remote hearing key into that. I really don’t see any reason why we cannot come to the conclusion that fair hearing and fair trial is not hindered by virtual hearing.”

On his part, Osipitan queried the merit of the SWAG suits, saying: “Looking at the issue of disputes, the Supreme Court of Nigeria is the apex court. It has just one original jurisdiction – to determine disputes between the Federation and the States or inter-State disputes, insofar as those disputes depend on existence of rights.

“In other words, not just disputes but disputes that will call into question the rights and duties of the parties. And I keep on asking myself, going to the Supreme Court to seek interpretation of the Constitution against who? Against the Federal Government. What has the Federal Government or the Executive done to warrant being dragged to the Supreme Court?”

Passing his judgement on the SWAG suits, the respected senior advocate declared: “I see that case as very academic and very hypothetical. Granted that the National Assembly wants to amend the Constitution; that itself creates a dispute between a litigant and the National Assembly with respect to the interpretation of the Constitution. If that is the case, that creates a lis, a dispute. But the place to go to is the Federal High Court for issues that have to do with the interpretation and application of the Constitution. The Federal High Court has jurisdiction over such issues.”

On the point made by Justice Kanyip that the SWAG suits turn on a prayer for the Supreme Court to validate earlier acts of Lagos State, Osipitan said: “Supreme Court decides – and indeed all courts decide – live issues, not to give advisory opinion. If what they require is advisory opinion, the journey must start at the Federal High Court – and they now do case stated to the Court of Appeal and to the Supreme Court. But let us see how the Supreme Court will decide the matter.”

Turning to the plan by the National Assembly to amend the Constitution to accommodate virtual hearing, the University of Lagos law teacher said: “I also do not see how the National Assembly could amend the Constitution to insert the aspect of virtual hearing. The Constitution is a very serious document, very very serious. For them to amend it, they will also need the support of the States; in other words, after finishing at the National Assembly, they still must have the support of the State Assemblies. So they have problems with the States that are not going to agree with them. But I do not think that what is happening justifies the amendment of the Constitution; certainly No! We can interpret the Constitution in a purposive and liberal manner, to the extent that wherever you have the word ‘hearing in public,’ it does not mean that members of the public will all be physically there; all they are saying is opportunity to view the proceedings, to follow the proceedings. It is a matter of interpretation; we don’t require any amendment to the Constitution.

“In terms of the dispute they have placed before the Supreme Court, I am afraid they have gone to the wrong court and I can predict that the outcome is likely to be that it is academic, it’s hypothetical and it is outside the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.”

But Ajayi disagreed, saying: “The Constitution must be read in a manner that ensures that there is justice. The Supreme Court has said in a number of cases – including Global Excellence v Duke – that the language of the Constitution, although it doesn’t change, the changing circumstances of the society for which it is designed must yield to new and fuller need. In other words, you change your statutes, you don’t change your Constitution. The point has been made as to what is ‘public’ and what is the purpose of that. You cannot amend the Constitution whenever anything changes
“The question is, is this suit by Lagos State academic? Is it a dispute? Two things arise: One is, can the Supreme Court take an academic matter? It has said over and over again that it does not take academic matters. But then, the jurisprudence of this point is that there is a difference between a hypothetical matter and an academic issue.

“A hypothetical question is taken by a court when it is of public importance. And there are a number of English House of Lords, Supreme Court decisions on that point, that say, they will take a hypothetical question that is of public importance. Let us take this matter for instance; is it a matter of public interest? Yes, it is because it is notionally possible that we would be unable to go to court for two years. So, should there be a determination on the point? I think there should be, because we would have a definite Yes or No on whether all these rules are bad or these rules are good. At the moment, if I go to court A, they may say ‘No;’ I go to court B, they say ‘Yes.’ Or I go to Court of Appeal A, they say ‘Yes,’ but Court of Appeal B says ‘No.’

“The Constitution says the Supreme Court can take a dispute. People have said there is no dispute. So, the jurisprudential question is, ‘What is a dispute?’ Is a dispute a war or is a dispute a difference? And I think there is a difference. Now as to what is allowable, there are judges and there are lawyers and legislatures that have said Section 36 of the Constitution requires a physical building in terms of public. There are people that have said, ‘No, public is the ability of more than the litigant to attend the hearing.’ So, there is that point as to what is the meaning of public.

“The other thing is, in determining what a dispute is, we have to go beyond the narrow confines of ordinary matters that are not of public interest, that are not disputes between economic units of the State. When it comes to the administration of justice, dispute is totally different; it is about the administration of justice, it is also about the ability of the Governor of Lagos to ensure that his executive policies in running the state come to fruition. The Governor of Lagos State is entitled to ensure that the law in Lagos State is one that assures local and domestic investors that in this state there is justice; that in this state, the courts work functionally. He has an interest. These are the public interest issues.”

Fapohunda had while unveiling plans by the South West Attorneys-General to litigate the controversy, said: “Since the National Judicial Council issued its Guidelines for court sittings in this COVID-19 period, we have had a national conversation particularly among justice sector stakeholders on the constitutionality or otherwise of remote court hearings.”

Continuing, the Ekiti State Attorneys-General & Commissioner for Justice said: “Let me however quickly use this opportunity to inform participants that following a resolution of the South West Attorneys-General, the Attorneys-General of Lagos, Ondo and Oyo States have decided to approach the Supreme Court to seek a constitutional interpretation of Section 36(3) & (4) of the 1999 Constitution, particularly as it relates to remote court hearings. We will be filing the necessary papers in the Supreme Court tomorrow.” He added: “We are convinced that a definite pronouncement by the Supreme Court is necessary in order to put the matter at rest once and for all.”

Since the issuance of the NJC Guidelines and several Practice Directions on virtual court hearings, some jurists have argued that virtual hearings violate the 1999 Constitution on the requirement that court hearings must be held in public.

Section 36(3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution provides as follows:
“(3) The proceedings of a court or the proceedings of any tribunal relating to the matters mentioned in subsection (1) of this section (including the announcement of the decisions of the court or tribunal) shall be held in public.
(4) Whenever any person is charged with a criminal offence, he shall, unless the charge is withdrawn, be entitled to a fair hearing in public within a reasonable time by a court or tribunal:
Provided that –
(a) a court or such a tribunal may exclude from its proceedings persons other than the parties thereto or their legal practitioners in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, the welfare of persons who have not attained the age of eighteen years, the protection of the private lives of the parties or to such extent as it may consider necessary by reason of special circumstances in which publicity would be contrary to the interests of justice;
(b) if in any proceedings before a court or such a tribunal, a Minister of the Government of the Federation or a commissioner of the government of a State satisfies the court or tribunal that it would not be in the public interest for any matter to be publicly disclosed, the court or tribunal shall make arrangements for evidence relating to that matter to be heard in private and shall take such other action as may be necessary or expedient to prevent the disclosure of the matter.”

Hosted by Mr. Folabi Kuti, a Partner in Perchstone & Graeys, the NBA Lagos Branch webinar also featured former President of Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Ms. Ayo Obe and Branch Chairman, Mr. Yemi Akangbe.

Please send emails to citylawyermag@gmail.com. Copyright 2018 CITY LAWYER. All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.

VIRTUAL COURTS SUIT: ‘WHY S/W ATTORNEYS-GENERAL MUST RETRACE STEPS,’ BY UDEMEZUE

The controversy over plans by Attorneys-General of Nigeria’s South West Zone to seek a constitutional interpretation of virtual court hearings has refused to abate.

CITY LAWYER had in an exclusive report noted that there was a move by the six South West attorneys-general to approach the Supreme Court for an interpretation of section 36(3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution as it relates to virtual court hearings. The Attorneys-General have also come under fire from several jurists including a federal judge for the move.

In this article, Nigerian Law School teacher, Mr. Sylvester Udemezue advises the State chief law officers on how to rework their strategy to have a fighting chance of success with the initiative.

THE BACKGROUND
I recently read of plans by Attorneys-General (AG`s) of Nigeria’s South West Zone to approach the Supreme Court for a judicial interpretation of section 36(3) and (4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as it relates to virtual court hearing. The report which came under the headline, “Virtual Hearing: South West AG`s Storm Supreme Court Tomorrow” and published by the City Lawyer stated, in part, as follows:

‘Attorneys-General of Nigeria’s South West Zone have resolved to seek a constitutional interpretation of virtual court hearings as set out in the National Judicial Council (NJC) Guidelines and Sundry Practice Directions issued by heads of courts, CITY LAWYER can exclusively report. Speaking today at an Attorneys-General Colloquium on “Remote hearing and e-filing in Nigeria: A broader perspective and practical, foolproof implementation,” Ekiti State Attorney-General & Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Olawale Fapohunda said the Attorneys-General of Lagos, Ondo and Oyo States would head to the Supreme Court tomorrow to test the constitutionality of remote hearings. His words: “Since the National Judicial Council issued its Guidelines for court sittings in this COVID-19 period, we have had a national conversation particularly among justice sector stakeholders on the constitutionality or otherwise of remote court hearings.” Continuing, the leading justice reform advocate said: “Let me however quickly use this opportunity to inform participants that following a resolution of the South West Attorneys-General, the Attorneys-General of Lagos, Ondo and Oyo States have decided to approach the Supreme Court to seek a constitutional interpretation of Section 36(3) & (4) of the 1999 Constitution, particularly as it relates to remote court hearings. We will be filing the necessary papers in the Supreme Court tomorrow. Fapohunda, who was the Host of the webinar organized by Ekiti State Ministry of Justice and LawPavilion, added that “We are convinced that a definite pronouncement by the Supreme Court is necessary in order to put the matter at rest once and for all.’

Lawyers have been speaking on the development, with some giving kudos while some others give their knocks. (see http://citylawyermag.com/2020/06/05/virtual-courts-judge-sans-knock-s-w-attorneys-general-over-supreme-court-suit/). On his part, one respected senior lawyer has suggested that if the National Assembly could have powers to amend the Constitution over the virtual hearing (see “Senate introduces bill to Legalize virtual court proceedings” published on https://www.von.gov.ng/), the planned suit by the Southwest AG`s might not be out of place, as, according to him, it would assist to quickly resolve the matter, to determine whether or not there is any need for constitution amendment in that regard.

MY COMMENT
In my humble opinion, the power of the legislature (in this case, the Nigerian National Assembly) to make laws or to amend any law or the Constitution is clearly different, and as such is distinguishable, from the legal standing (locus standi) of the Attorneys-General to institute an action at the Supreme Court for this purpose. The National Assembly is empowered by section 4(2) of the Constitution to make laws for the order and good governance of Nigeria or any part of it. This power may be exercised any time without the need to wait for any live dispute, real controversy or incident to arise.

On the other hand, it is trite that a Court of Law does not sit over a hypothetical matter, as this amounts to a mere academic exercise. As already settled by the same Supreme Court, for a court’s jurisdiction to hear and determine a case brought before it, can get validly activated, the claimant or applicant must establish that there is a cause of action, and that he (the claimant) has the legal standing to institute the action, although in certain public interest and human right cases, existence of locus standi could be dispensed with.

What cannot be dispensed with, however, is prior existence of a cause of action, and this is because a suit is filed in court for purposes or remedying an wrong allegedly done to the claimant. The existence of a valid action presupposes that (1) a legal right exists which (2) had been violated (3) leading to some injury on a person or thing (4) which is legally remediable. In a long line of cases, including OSHOBA v. AMUDA, (2). MOBIL v. LASEOA, (3) CHEVRON v. LONESTAR, (4). BELLO v. AG, OYO), the Supreme Court has recognized the indispensability of existence of a cause of action (a real controversy) to the activation of the court’s jurisdiction.

In the instance case, based on the aforesaid, if the dream of these AG`s finally becomes a reality, the question that would be thrown up is as regards existence or otherwise of any live dispute or real controversy upon which the Hon AG’s could be said to have filed such a suit before the Supreme Court? I think the AG`s might have an enormous task convincing the Supreme Court that a cause of action actually exists. But there may be an alternative course, where the Supreme Court option fails; the AG’s could persuade or encourage one of the parties to the recently-conducted virtual court hearings in the High Court of Lagos State, to proceed on appeal to challenge the validity of one of the virtual proceedings. Because of the crucial nature of the subject matter, the head of the Court of Appeal would ensure that the case is afforded an accelerated hearing so that whoever loses is further encouraged to move over to the Supreme Court for a final determination. As good as it looks, this approach comes with its own challenges because, under such circumstances, question pertaining to breach of that aspect of Legal Professional Ethics relating to “Instigation of Controversy” might arise. Rule 47 (1) of the RPC expressly admonishes the Legal Practitioner to refrain from fermenting strife or instigating controversy. The Hon AG’s advising a person/party, save their close relations, to institute a law suit or to file an appeal in court, might be viewed as a violation of this Rule.

MY ADVICE
Why not we get the National Assembly to speedily amend the Constitution and thus clear all doubts. During the virtual hearing webinar organized by Law & Society Forum (LaSF) on 29 May, 2020, at which I was a Speaker, I had drawn our attention to the admonition of the Supreme Court in the case of Doherty v Doherty (1968), that use of Writ of Summons should be resorted where there is “uncertainty as to what mode of commencement of action should be used.” Why can’t we, by way of analogy, apply that counsel here. Nigerian lawyers and jurists are evenly divided as to the constitutionality or otherwise of conducting virtual court proceedings in Nigeria without a prior constitution amendment or legal reform, which means that we’ve have arrived a point of uncertainty in regard to the matter. I accordingly respectfully advise us to please err on the side of caution by adopting the approach that would save us much stress, in the long run, especially in view of the ripple effects of the recent decision of the Supreme Court in UDEOGU V FRN (Orji KALU Case) (see https://www.tvcnews.tv/scourt-nullifies-orji-kalus-conviction-orders-fresh-trial/) wherein section 396(7) Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015 was struck down on grounds of its inconsistency with provisions of the Constitution.

Although the procedure for Constitution amendment in Nigeria is not a “moi-moi” matter (not easy; is cumbersome), if these AG’s cooperate with the National Assembly on the matter, it would take less than the next two months to get the Constitution amended to expressly authorize or legalize virtual hearing and thus leave no one in doubt while saving us all future embarrassing controversy. The time and resources the AG’s propose to expend at the Supreme Court over a mere academic exercise that is likely going to be thrown out on grounds of absence of a cause of action or locus standi or both, should be channeled towards rendering necessary cooperation to the National Assembly to do the needful within the shortest possible time. American operatic soprano, Beverly Sills, (1929-2007) once said, “there are no shortcuts to anyplace worth going.”

Respectfully,
SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE (udems)

Please send emails to citylawyermag@gmail.com. Copyright 2018 CITY LAWYER. All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.

VIRTUAL COURTS: JUDGE, SANs KNOCK S/W ATTORNEYS-GENERAL OVER SUPREME COURT SUIT

Attorneys-General of Nigeria’s South West Zone came under searing attack today over plans by the State chief law officers to seek a constitutional interpretation of virtual court hearings.

CITY LAWYER had in an exclusive report noted that there was a move by the six South West attorneys-general to approach the Supreme Court for an interpretation of section 36(3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution as it relates to virtual court hearings.

Ekiti State Attorney-General & Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Olawale Fapohunda had informed participants at a webinar last Wednesday that the Attorneys-General resolved during a maiden virtual conference to head to the Supreme Court to seek resolution of the controversial virtual hearing provision contained in the National Judicial Council (NJC) Guidelines and sundry Practice Directions issued by heads of courts.

But no sooner had the CITY LAWYER report hit the newsstands than some senior lawyers lampoon the move by the attorneys-general.

Firing the first salvo, foremost Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs SAN wondered whether the suit would not be a mere academic exercise. He said: “Would the action not be academic?” Continuing, he asked: “Can the Supreme Court entertain academic question not based on any live issue?”

Aligning with Jacobs, Mr. Ayodeji Esan said: “My thoughts exactly. What disputes and between which parties would the court be called upon to adjudicate? Who are the defendants?”

While leading litigator, Mr. Adebayo Adenipekun SAN felt that the issue of parties may be resolved, he aligned with both jurists on the thorny issue of the dispute to be presented to the apex court for resolution. His words: “I have a feeling they will make the Attorney-General of the Federation the defendant. The question will still be ‘what is the dispute?’”

However, speaking at today’s webinar on “Engagement on the Federal High Court Practice Directions and the Protocols on Virtual Hearings 2020” organized by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Lagos Branch, the Administrative Judge of the Federal High Court (Lagos Division), Justice Muhammad Liman was unsparing in thumping down the move by the attorneys-general.

Describing the move as “cavalier,” the leading jurist said: “I do not think the attorneys-general need to go the Supreme Court for any interpretation,” adding that aside from the fact that the NJC did not have the power to make rules for the courts, there was a need to distinguish between the Right to Fair Hearing and public access to court hearings.

Justice Liman stated that both concepts cannot be lumped together, adding that while public hearing “is the limited opportunity the Constitution affords everyone to court hearing,” the challenge thrown up by virtual hearing “is not a serious problem that cannot be ameliorated.”

Aligning himself with Justice Liman’s distinguishing of the two concepts, former Lagos State Attorney-General & Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Olasupo Shasore SAN said that “publicity is the soul of justice.” Citing several judicial authorities, Shasore said the intendment is “to remove the possibility of arbitrariness” and to ensure that the public “have an opportunity of judging the judges.”

Dwelling specifically on constitutional interpretation, the former Lagos State chief law officer cited NAFIU RABIU V STATE in reading the mind of the Supreme Court on constitutional interpretation. “It is an organic document and it does not provide for everything,” he said, adding however that there is a tendency for the courts to seek strict interpretation of the Constitution and statutes.

Other speakers at the NBA Lagos Branch webinar included Mr. Wale Akoni SAN, Mr. Babajide Ogundipe and Mr. Yemi Akangbe.

Speaking at an Attorneys-General Colloquium on “Remote hearing and e-filing in Nigeria: A broader perspective and practical, foolproof implementation,” Fapohunda had said that the Attorneys-General of Lagos, Ondo and Oyo States would on Thursday file a suit at the Supreme Court to test the constitutionality of remote hearings.

His words: “Since the National Judicial Council issued its Guidelines for court sittings in this COVID-19 period, we have had a national conversation particularly among justice sector stakeholders on the constitutionality or otherwise of remote court hearings.”

Continuing, the leading justice reform advocate said: “Let me however quickly use this opportunity to inform participants that following a resolution of the South West Attorneys-General, the Attorneys-General of Lagos, Ondo and Oyo States have decided to approach the Supreme Court to seek a constitutional interpretation of Section 36(3) & (4) of the 1999 Constitution, particularly as it relates to remote court hearings. We will be filing the necessary papers in the Supreme Court tomorrow.”

Fapohunda, who was the Host of the webinar organized by Ekiti State Ministry of Justice and LawPavilion, added that “We are convinced that a definite pronouncement by the Supreme Court is necessary in order to put the matter at rest once and for all.”

Since the issuance of the NJC Guidelines and several Practice Directions on virtual court hearings, some jurists have argued that virtual hearings violate Section 36(3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution on the requirement that court hearings must be held in public.

Please send emails to citylawyermag@gmail.com. Copyright 2018 CITY LAWYER. All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.

VIRTUAL HEARING: SOUTH WEST AGs STORM SUPREME COURT TOMORROW

Attorneys-General of Nigeria’s South West Zone have resolved to seek a constitutional interpretation of virtual court hearings as set out in the National Judicial Council (NJC) Guidelines and sundry Practice Directions issued by heads of courts, CITY LAWYER can exclusively report.

Speaking today at an Attorneys-General Colloquium on “Remote hearing and e-filing in Nigeria: A broader perspective and practical, foolproof implementation,” Ekiti State Attorney-General & Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Olawale Fapohunda said the Attorneys-General of Lagos, Ondo and Oyo States would head to the Supreme Court tomorrow to test the constitutionality of remote hearings.

His words: “Since the National Judicial Council issued its Guidelines for court sittings in this COVID-19 period, we have had a national conversation particularly among justice sector stakeholders on the constitutionality or otherwise of remote court hearings.”

Continuing, the leading justice reform advocate said: “Let me however quickly use this opportunity to inform participants that following a resolution of the South West Attorneys-General, the Attorneys-General of Lagos, Ondo and Oyo States have decided to approach the Supreme Court to seek a constitutional interpretation of Section 36(3) & (4) of the 1999 Constitution, particularly as it relates to remote court hearings. We will be filing the necessary papers in the Supreme Court tomorrow.”

Fapohunda, who was the Host of the webinar organized by Ekiti State Ministry of Justice and LawPavilion, added that “We are convinced that a definite pronouncement by the Supreme Court is necessary in order to put the matter at rest once and for all.”

Since the issuance of the NJC Guidelines and several Practice Directions on virtual court hearings, some jurists have argued that virtual hearings violate the 1999 Constitution on the requirement that court hearings must be held in public.

Section 36(3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution provides as follows:
“(3) The proceedings of a court or the proceedings of any tribunal relating to the matters mentioned in subsection (1) of this section (including the announcement of the decisions of the court or tribunal) shall be held in public.
(4) Whenever any person is charged with a criminal offence, he shall, unless the charge is withdrawn, be entitled to a fair hearing in public within a reasonable time by a court or tribunal:

Provided that –
(a) a court or such a tribunal may exclude from its proceedings persons other than the parties thereto or their legal practitioners in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, the welfare of persons who have not attained the age of eighteen years, the protection of the private lives of the parties or to such extent as it may consider necessary by reason of special circumstances in which publicity would be contrary to the interests of justice;

(b) if in any proceedings before a court or such a tribunal, a Minister of the Government of the Federation or a commissioner of the government of a State satisfies the court or tribunal that it would not be in the public interest for any matter to be publicly disclosed, the court or tribunal shall make arrangements for evidence relating to that matter to be heard in private and shall take such other action as may be necessary or expedient to prevent the disclosure of the matter.”

Other speakers at the webinar were the Managing Director of LawPavillion Business Solutions, Mr. Ope Olugasa and the Group Managing Director of Telnet Nigerian Limited, Mr. Folorunsho Aliu. According to the organisers, participants at the webinar attended by CITY LAWYER included justice sector stakeholders, legal practitioners, court officials, and law enforcement agencies.

Please send emails to citylawyermag@gmail.com. Copyright 2018 CITY LAWYER. All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.

ZAMFARA ELECTION: THE TASK BEFORE SUPREME COURT

By IGE ASEMUDARA

Prominent lawyer and Managing Partner of Royal Practice (Legal Group), Ige Asemudara argues that there is no ambiguity as to the path the Supreme Court should tread in the Zamfara State elections saga

There is no gainsaying the fact that non-compliance with rules and disobedience to law and order has been the bane of the Nigerian state; her institutions are bogged down by it and her machineries are almost grinding to a halt. Thus, government agencies and departments are either unproductive, under-productive or counter-productive. From university admissions to recruitment into government services, and the administration of public services of the federation and its various constituent states, standard procedures are hardly ever followed. This general affliction of the Nigerian state is replicated in virtually all the facets of public life including electoral matters. Nigeria stinks as impunity reigns! In Nigeria, the law merely stares as its assailers rapes and tortures her.

In electoral matters, Nigeria has been greeted by a spate of breaches of the rule of law and standard electoral practices making her a laughing stock in the international community. Failure to play by the rules has been a serious challenge for the various participants. It is unfortunate that many powerful individual aspirants or candidates and their political parties are involved in the deliberate and arrogant assault on the electoral laws. The involvement of political parties in these breaches manifests during inter-parties general elections as well as intra-party primaries. In law, the internal democracies of parties are as important to the process as the general elections and the Electoral Act, 2010 does not pretend about this. Due to the bad practices of the past years and the criticisms leveled against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the electoral umpire decided to rise up and ensure compliance with the law. The result is the Rivers and Zamfara debacle.

Whilst Rivers has been laid to rest vide the Supreme Court decision of 11th February, 2019, Zamfara appears to still pretend that there is a misty cloud of uncertainty as the two All Progressives Congress (APC) factions continue in legal warfare. The other participating political parties have also continued to embark on series of journeys targeted at resolving the log jam in their favour. In all of these, where does the law stand in Zamfara ? What must INEC do in the rare circumstances of the issue and in view of the law particularly the decision of the Court of Appeal (Sokoto division) graciously rolled down by my Lords, Tom Shaibu Yakubu, Tijjani Abubakar and Jamilu Yammama Tukur JJJCA on the 25th day of March, 2019?

In the prelude to the 2019 general election, APC had failed, neglected or refused to conduct a primary election for the aspirants to the governorship, National Assembly and State House of Assembly positions in Zamfara state before the lapse of time as provided by law. So, INEC communicated its intention not to include any candidate of the APC for these positions in the election until the party rushed to the Zamfara State High Court to secure a judgment that compelled INEC to recognise and include the candidates of the party submitted by the state chairman of the party. It was under this circumstance that the parties went into the general election on 9th of March, 2019. Whilst this went on, an appeal was pending against the judgment of Shinkafi J. which mandated INEC to recognize and include the names of the candidates of the APC on the ballot papers. Eventually, INEC announced the results of the March, 2019 governorship election and declared Alhaji Mukhtar Shehu of the APC as the winner of the election scoring 534, 541 votes to defeat Dr. Bello Muhammad Mutawalle of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) who polled 189, 452 votes. Thereafter, the Court of Appeal concluded the hearing of the appeal lodged by Senator Kabiru Marafa and others and gave a judgment setting aside the decision of the High Court thereby nullifying and invalidating the APC primaries purportedly conducted on the 3rd and 7th day of October, 2018 in Zamfara state. This made INEC to immediately withhold the issuance of certificate of returns to the APC members in Zamfara state. This seems to have created a misty atmosphere in Zamfara which ought not to be as the law is clear enough on an issue such as this.

According to Lon Fuller, Law is the enterprise of subjecting human conduct to the governance of rules. In his Morality of Law, Fuller identified eight principles of legality which are generally accepted by legal scholars as capturing the essence of the rule of law. Without bogging down the reader with the details of Fuller’s proposition, it suffices to say that the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the actions and conduct of INEC as the administering authorities of the electoral laws as well as the decision of the Court of Appeal on the 25th of March, 2019 are all within the enduring parameters of legality envisaged by Fuller. In simple terms, every participant in an election is not only expected to comply with the rules but he is bound by the clear rules and laws applicable to the said election for there is no game without a rule.

There has been a raging debate on what INEC ought to do under the circumstance. Like the preponderance of opinion, the Court of Appeal agreed and held that APC failed to comply with the provisions of Sections 31(1) and 87(1&2) of the Electoral Act, 2010. In reaching its decision the Honourable Court of Appeal quoted extensively from the Supreme Court’s decision in LAU V. PDP (2007) LPELR – 42800 (SC) @ pp 24-26 thus: “This is a hard and very bitter lesson for political parties to learn, they may have chosen candidates or eminent personalities they want to present as candidates to INEC, but they have to play by the rules, the chosen candidates must comply with the requirements of the law; they must abide by the provisions of the electoral Act, which creates a level playing field for all aspirants, who seek to contest elections. So, the political parties and their candidates must obey the Rules”. Now, it is without doubt that section 87(9) of the Electoral Act, 2010 provides that “where a political party fails to comply with the provisions of this Act in the conduct of its primaries, its candidate for election shall not be included in the election for the particular position in issue”. In the Zamfara situation, the candidates have been included in the election based on a court order which has now been reversed. The reversal means that the inclusion of APC candidates in the election was not just wrong but void.

It is humbly submitted that the refusal by INEC to issue the APC candidates certificates of return for the elections of 9th March, 2019 is in tandem with law. This is because in law, one cannot place something on nothing and expect it to stand. Lord Denning said that much in U.A.C. V. Macfoy (1962) A.C. 153 when he held that “If an act is void, then it is in law a nullity…. It is automatically null and void without much ado, though it is sometimes convenient to have the court declare it to be so. And every proceeding which is founded on it is also bad and incurably bad”. It is safe for INEC to hold on to the certificate until any appeal lodged at the Supreme Court is determined.

However, at the moment seeing through the eyes of the law in the spectacle of the Court of Appeal judgment of 25th March, 2019, the candidates of the APC never participated in the election and have no rights to take any benefit of it. INEC must however, bear in mind that like nature, the law abhors vacuum and governance must go on despite these electoral hurdles. In case there is no judgment from the Supreme Court before the 29th May, 2019, it is the candidates of the party that polled the second highest votes in constituencies and districts where APC came first, which should be handed the certificates of return and sworn-in. For instance, in the governorship position, Dr. Bello Muhammad Mutawalle of the PDP who came first among the lawful candidates in the election should be the person to be handed the certificate of return and sworn-in as the Executive Governor of Zamfara State the victory of the purported candidate of the APC over him being merely pyrrhic and false.

Finally, while it is hoped that politicians and political parties have learnt their lessons in all of these situations, it is important to state that until and unless an appeal is lodged at the Supreme Court and a verdict returned upturning the extant Court of Appeal judgment, APC and her members have no right to covertly or overtly obstruct INEC from performing its duties of issuing a certificate of return to the candidates of other political parties that have polled the highest number of votes in the eyes of the law. INEC being one of the respondents that lost at the appeal court must swiftly perform its statutory duty as an unbiased umpire. I am in agreement with Jerome Frank that a legal right is a law-suit won, and a legal duty is a law-suit lost.

Ige Asemudara Esq. a Lagos-based Legal Practitioner is the Managing Partner of Royal Practice (Legal Group), Lekki, Lagos.

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Rule of Law vs. National Security: What the Supreme Court Actually Said

President Muhammadu Buhari while giving an address at the opening ceremony of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) 2018 Annual General Conference, said: “Rule of Law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest. Our apex court has had cause to adopt a position on this issue in this regard and it is now a matter of judicial recognition that, where national security and public interest are threatened or there is a likelihood of their being threatened, the individual rights of those allegedly responsible must take second place, in favour of the greater good of society.”

The assertion has raised controversies. CITY LAWYER LAW REPORT details below what the Supreme Court actually said in DOKUBO-ASARI V FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA: Continue Reading